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UMass Lowell, iRobot Host Workshop

Teachers Learned How to Use Robotics for Instruction

Forty-eight educators attended the STREAM workshop to learn innovative approaches to robotics and science, technology, engineering and math education.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

iRobot Corp., in partnership with UMass Lowell, recently hosted this year’s STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering And Mathematics) education workshop at its headquarters in Bedford. The two-day event was organized by computer science Assoc. Prof. Holly Yanco and Kristen Stubbs, iRobot's STEM outreach program manager and a former post-doctoral researcher in Yanco's robotics lab.

Forty-eight Massachusetts K-12 educators participated in three intensive hands-on, interactive sessions covering the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The workshops included Sound Science with the LEGO NXT, Robots in the Technology/Engineering Curriculum and Artbotics: Attracting Students to STEM. Representatives from local technology companies also attended, giving presentations on the array of career opportunities for students interested in robotics and STEM disciplines.

"STREAM's goal was to expose teachers to a number of different methods on how to use robotics while teaching STEM subjects," says Yanco. “Some sessions were given by their peers currently utilizing robots to successfully teach STEM-related subjects."

In Sound Science with the LEGO NXT, teachers explored the science of sound with LEGO NXT hardware and Labview Educational Edition software. For example, they used the high-tech data-logging capabilities of the hardware and software to investigate a decidedly low-tech toy: the can-and-string telephone.

The session on Robots in the Technology/Engineering Curriculum demonstrated and explored the implementation of robotics in the Massachusetts engineering/technology frameworks. The teachers were challenged to solve an engineering design problem using the engineering design process, the iRobot Create and the Botball CBC controller.

In Artbotics: Attracting Students to STEM, participants were introduced to kinetic art concepts and a variety of electronic sensors and motors as well as computer programming with Cricket Logo software. They then created interactive works of art that were presented in a short exhibition at the end of the day.

“The Artbotics workshop generated a lot of enthusiasm and creativity," says Phyllis Procter, program manager for community partnerships in the Computer Science Department.

Two teachers who participated in last year’s workshop were awarded classroom robotic kits through funding from Boston SIM and the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.

Joey Flournoy of Littleton Middle School received 10 Lego Mindstorm kits and software as well as six Lego Mindstorm books while Elaine Mistretta of Haverhill High School was given 10 Cricket Cars and practice tables.

STREAM is a component of iRobot's SPARK (Starter Programs for the Advancement of Robotics Knowledge) initiative, which is dedicated to fostering elementary, middle, high school and college students' interest in STEM subjects.

Additional sponsors of the STREAM 2010 workshop included the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education and FootBridge.

“Teachers were truly inspired and energized by the workshop,” said Procter. "We have received several e-mails to this effect, and I'm sure the evaluators will have some very good comments."

"Our ultimate goal is to have STREAM replicated not only across Massachusetts but also nationwide," said Yanco.

For more information and photos of this year’s STREAM workshop, visit

At the STREAM workshop, educators participated in interactive sessions and attended presentations given by their peers currently utilizing robots to successfully teach STEM subjects.